Labour councilors at Westminster Council have called for a shake up of Westminster Council’s planning practices to give residents more information and more chance to get involved.

Labour planning spokeswoman Councillor Barbara Grahame called on the council to take a number of steps, including:

- produce a series of planning newsletters for residents with information about major applications and how to make comments

- facilitate planning forums where developers can present their plans to residents and engage at the earliest stage

- consider allowing residents to speak at planning sub-committee meetings, as is the case in most local council planning committees.

Councillor Grahame said: ‘Residents in Westminster, like everywhere else, are demanding a better way to have their say in decisions that effect their local environment.

'Westminster's current practices are stuck in the last century and a real shake-up is needed if residents are to be genuinely involved in planning matters.

‘The recent debacle over the Council’s so-called 'public consultation' on the £45 million proposal to re-build Quintin Kynaston and George Eliot Schools in St John's Wood shows that Westminster is totally out of step with what is needed.

'Westminster Council publicized out-of-date plans and gave less than a week's notice to residents about a consultation event held on a Friday afternoon, between 2pm and 7pm in the middle of July.

'Not surprisingly, the vast majority of residents found it impossible to attend and are now totally disillusioned about their ability to have their say and the Council's commitment to consultation.’

Councillor Robert Davis, Westminster City Council's deputy leader and cabinet member for the built environment, said: 'These claims are totally without merit and it is ludicrous to suggest the council does not already widely consult residents and businesses on planning proposals.

'While we welcome and actively encourage written responses to public consultations, it would be logistically impossible to allow all those with a viewpoint to speak in person at planning meetings . These are held in the evenings in order to allow those interested to attend after work, but they already last anything up to four hours and often beyond 10pm. Any longer would simply put people off from wanting to take part in the democratic planning process.

'As for spending precious resources on producing and distributing a newsletter on planning to every single resident and business, apart from the enormous time and costs involved, there is not a jot of evidence to suggest such a demand exists. The council's existing magazine, The Reporter, is designed to relay news of this nature to our residents and it regularly contains details on major planning issues.

'No planning applications for Quintin Kynaston and George Eliot schools have been submitted yet. The education department is consulting with the local community so that they can express their views well in advance.'